Division 4, The Role of Soils in Sustaining Society and the Environment

Commission 4.4 - Soil Education and Public Awareness


Description of Commission 4.4
This commission deals with how we present knowledge teaching and the development of soil scientists as well as anyone interested in soils from a learning standpoint and the information we give to create a general public awareness of soils. A well informed public is needed so that the importance of soils is understood by all.

During the 2015 International Year of Soils, the IUSS Division 4 will illustrate its main topics through articles written by Division 4 officers or their colleagues. These will each be highlighted every week from October to December 2015.

For this sixth week, we are displaying an article from Alex McBratney, past Deputy Secretary-General of the IUSS, and from the currently Commission 4.4 chair – Damien Field.


Making connections through Global Soil Security
Alex McBratney & Damien Field (chair of commission 4.4)
Department of Enviromental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia

Soil message

The soil science community already knows the crucial role soil has in accumulating nutrients and water to secure our food, fiber, biofuel and freshwater now and into the future.
The role of soil as a habitat for a large diversity of organisms and sup¬porting environmental and human health is also firmly rooted in the soil scientist psyche. Over the last five decades food, water and energy security, along with the adaption to climate change, protecting biodiversity and human health are six global challenges that soil scientists need to be addressing. The challenge though for soil scientist is to ensure that their knowledge is not just limited to a discussion amongst themselves but also engages the broader community who are also tackling these ex-istential challenges.

The realization that soil has an integral part to play in the global challenges has led to the concept of “soil security”, which refers to the maintenance and improvement of the world’s soil to produce food, fiber, freshwater, contribute to energy and climate sustainability, and help to maintain biodiversity and protect ecosystem goods and services.

At the 20th World Congress in JeJu, Korea this concept was introduced to the soil science community and recognized that soil security is framed by five dimensions. The dimensions of capability and condition focus on the biophysical evaluation of soil and asks the questions ‘what can this soil do?’ and ‘what is the current state of the soil?’ When focusing on food production, land suitability is an effective means of evaluating how the current condition of the soil can support grain, livestock and horticulture production.

But by focusing only on food production have we missed a trick? To know the soil’s full potential we need to recognize that it provides functions that support a range of ecosystem services, such as nature reserves, water catchment, urban development and cultural significance, and when these are evaluated it is possible to describe what the soil is truely capable of. In fact experts claim that ecosystem services contribute $33 trillion annually to the global economy, and combining soil capability with cost, infrastructure, and human desires the opportunities are now fully explored. Capa¬bility provides a basis to quantify the soil resource across space and time which can be mapped, planned, modelled and forecast.

While everyone’s problem, but not the central concern of the soil scientist, are the socioeconomic challenges when soil is not secure. Soil security frames this by placing a value on the soil, a need to know how people are connected with soil, and these along with the biophysical attributes, will contribute to good policy to secure the soil against further degradation. This is covered by the dimensions of capital, connec¬tivity, and codification.

Both ecosystem services and green economies accept placing a value on soil viewing it as a stock from which goods are produced. This approach recognizes that the multi-functional nature of soil enabling both its productivity and ecosystem services to be valued, in other words, letting us compare apples and oranges. Such an approach was demonstrated at the World Congress by Anna van Paddenburg from the Global Green Growth Institute in Jakarta. Talking to ‘Investing in Green Growth Investing in Soil Security’, Anna described how a change in focus to include valuing natural re¬sources results in synergies that support both agricultural production and maintain the surrounding ecosystem to support wildlife and water quality.

To support famers’ connectivity with soil means having access to good soil knowl¬edge. In the future, Johan Bouma from Wageningen University in the Netherlands talked at the congress of the need for knowledge brokers who have both current soil science knowledge and the social intelligence to see how this knowledge can be used to support the soil’s capability and condition.
Connectivity though demands that society more generally is reconnected to the soil as a means to increase its value and security. To nurture the wider public’s connec¬tion Robert Hill stated that success is often achieved when a clear message is devel¬oped focusing on a single indicator for change. Although single indicators are not endorsed by soil science generally, the recent focus of society and its understanding of soil carbon would suggest that if a single indicator was needed, should be soil carbon?

Evidence suggests that national, let alone internationally agreed, policy around soil is sporadic with few countries, such as Korea, having well-developed integrated reg¬ulatory strategy. Having society connect with soil and providing accessible soil ca¬pability and condition data will improve the opportunity for policy development to secure soil. All of this can only be achieved when soil scientists, economists, social science and policy makers discuss and all contribute to the decision making about soil and this is what soil security is striving to achieve.

Therefore, there is a seventh global and existential challenge, that of soil security!

Commission 4.4 Controbution IYS

Information and contact

Damien Joseph Field

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Page created: 11.11.2015 | Page updated: 04.04.2021

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